I Doubt It, and Everything Else
by Michelle Janene
Was that the right word? Did I hook the reader with the first page? Is there enough conflict? Will anyone ever want to read this mess? You want me to write a regular article? Me?
If you’re a writer, you’ve faced doubt. From Steven King to J.K. Rowling every author struggles with misgivings in one fashion or another. From agonizing over a single word choice to an entire manuscript. Uncertainty can be crippling. It can lead to a feeling of writer’s block or the inability to ever stop editing and submit or publish your work.
There are ways to get beyond the anxiety.
Firstly, if God has called you to write and instilled in you a love of words or telling a story, then the root of the battle has been eliminated. It is something that can be faced and conquered as you allow the truth of God’s work in your life to blossom. As the saying goes, “If He’s called you to it, He’ll see you through it.” Tell your enemy to take a hike, put your backside in front of your computer, and take joy in the gift God has given you.
Write Then Edit
Write first and edit later. James Scott Bell recently blogged about the need to turn off our inner editors, our lurking critics, and just write. Get it all on the page. That first draft is never anything anyone will see. Have fun. Let your mind run wild with every possibility. There is freedom in just letting your ideas flow and leaving the fixing until later. Give your piece time to rest. Read a book on craft. Read for fun. Do some other form of art and be inspired in your writing as well.
Then go back and edit, cut, add, and rearrange as needed. You will find words, phrases, whole scenes you love. Others will need refining. And as James Scott Bell says, “Be willing to kill your darlings.” Not everything in your first draft is meant to survive. Like a sculptor of a beautiful piece of marble, material has to be chipped away for the masterpiece to be revealed.
Study Your Craft
Studying can help conquer doubt. To be a writer you have to be a willing learner. If you need to know what readers want in great stories, books like Plot and Structure, Write Your Novel From the Middle, On Writing, Fiction Writing for Dummies, and Writing the Breakout Novel can be invaluable tools to point you in the right direction. There are books to help with hooking your reader on the first pages, deep point of view, character development, ramping up the tension, and a host of other topics. Spend some time and money to attend workshops and conferences. These are invaluable sources of learning as well as getting you connected with other writers who understand your daily struggles.
The singular thing I have done that has made by far the most improvement in my writing is joining a critique group. After I have edited my story several times, I share it with a small group of writers I trust to tell me the truth. I don’t need flattery. I need constructive advice as to what is working and what is downright confusing in my manuscripts. If I haven’t made a character’s behavior clear enough, they’ll tell me.
Once the entire story is sent through my critique groups a few chapters at a time, I edit again using their suggestions. Beta-readers are also helpful. They will read the entire piece altogether. They are the ones who catch inconsistencies. For example, in my first novel, my MC (main character) traveled on horseback over a mountain range but it took her three days. Later she flees back over these mountains on foot in two days. Because the events were separated for my critique group by many months they missed it, but my beta-reader caught it.
Letting others read your work before you send it out into the world at large can clear up many things that you as the writer know implicitly in your head, but it hasn’t gotten to the page clearly enough for your readers.
Finally, remember writing is an art form. Just like paintings, we all have artists we like and those we don’t particularly care for. I’m not a big Picasso fan. Now Michelangelo is a completely different story. It is the same with written creations. We paint whole worlds with our words. You will never be able to please everyone no matter how much you wish you could. Don’t be surprised when some readers love it while we’ll never be the favorites of others. Knowing you can’t please everyone can take some of the self-doubts away and let you write what you’re passionate about.
Take a deep breath, grab your go-to beverage, and reach for the keyboard. God has provided the gift and the inspiration. Allow yourself to get your ideas down. Then take all the skills you continue to learn and make it the best you can. Somewhere out there your fans are waiting for the next creation. Kick doubt to the curb and let’s do this.
About the Author
Michelle Janene lives and works in Northern California. Most days she blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind. She is a devoted teacher, a dysfunctional housekeeper, and a dedicated writer. She released her first novella Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015. God’s Rebel came out in 2016, followed by Rebel’s Son and Hidden Rebel in 2017. She has been published in “Guide Post Magazine” and several anthologies. She leads two critique groups and is the founder of Strong Tower Press—Indie solutions for indie authors.